14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Chicago
Chicago lies along the shores of Lake Michigan and the skyline is particularly impressive when seen from the water. The city enjoys a worldwide reputation as a focal point of 20th century architecture and art, with architects such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, and artists like Picasso, Mirő, Dubuffet and Chagall having left their mark.
As a centre of culture, Chicago is second only to New York. It is home to multiple universities and numerous internationally renowned research institutes. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Art Institute of Chicago are synonymous with culture. Chicago is also often claimed to be the true "home of the blues". The city has much to offer in the sporting sphere, too, with the Chicago Bears in American football, the Chicago White Sox and Cubs in baseball and, above all, the Chicago Bulls in basketball. Last, but not least, are the beautiful beaches.
Chicago is known for high winds that blow throughout the year. In spite of its situation on Lake Michigan the city can become intolerably hot in summer. In winter influxes of cold air, accompanied by heavy snowfalls and very low temperatures, lead almost regularly to catastrophic conditions in the city.
The first whites to come to this area, in 1673, were French prospectors and fur traders. The local Indians called the marshy region "Checagon", which loosely translates as "the place which stinks of onions". The first real settlement on the site of Chicago grew up round Fort Dearborn, which was established in 1803, and was incorporated as a town in 1837. It grew with the development of the rail network and steam-powered shipping on the Great Lakes. After the Civil War, Chicago became the country's leading centre of major industry, attracting a great influx of immigrants from all over the world. Temporary economic difficulties and the enormous pressure of population led to social and ethnic conflicts, reflected in such incidents as the Hay Market riot of 1886 and the Pullman strike in 1894. Gangster activity, too, developed on an unprecedented scale.
In October 1871 large areas of the city were destroyed in a catastrophic fire but recovery was swift. In 1893 Chicago hosted the World's Columbian Exposition. After the great fire, the Chicago school of architects, including such masters as L.H. Sullivan, D.H. Burnham and D. Adler, established their reputation here.
During the Prohibition era (1919-33) Chicago was tyrannised by gangs, often with the cooperation of bribed police and government officials. One of the leading gangsters of this period was Al Capone. In the 1920s, the city became the great centre of jazz which, although born in New Orleans, enjoyed a fresh flowering in Chicago. In 1933-4 another very successful world's fair was held in the city. In the 1940s the "second Chicago school" of architects, led by Mies van der Rohe, established their reputation. In 1959 the opening of the St Lawrence Seaway gave the city access to the oceans of the world.
1 Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago is a world class museum with hundreds of thousands of artworks. The diverse collection spans thousands of years and includes pieces from a variety of media including painting, prints, photography, sculpture, decorative arts, textiles, architectural drawings and more. The Institute is known for its collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings including Georges Seurat's 1884 "A Sunday Afternoon on La Grand Jatte," Renoir's 1879 "Acrobats at the Circque Fernando" and numerous paintings by Claude Monet.
The main building, designed by Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge in beaux-arts style, was built for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Several other buildings have been added on over the years and today the complex measures 400,000 square feet.
2 Millennium Park
Millennium Park is located in downtown Chicago bordered by Michigan Avenue to the west, Columbus Drive to the east, Randolph Street to the North and Monroe Street to the South. The main features of Millennium Park include the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor concert venue; the interactive Crown Fountain; Lurie Garden; and the Cloud Gate sculpture on the AT&T Plaza.
3 Michigan Avenue and the Magnificent Mile
Michigan Avenue is probably one of the most attractive boulevards in America. The city's famous Magnificent Mile is a section of Michigan Avenue north of the Chicago River, with numerous galleries, boutiques and luxury shops. Some of the attractions along here include the John Hancock Center, the Wrigley Building, and the Tribune Tower. Michigan Avenue splits between North and South designations at Madison Street.
4 Navy Pier
The Navy Pier originally opened in 1916 as an amusement area and shipping facility but is now one of Chicago's most popular tourist attractions. Today, the Navy Pier is made up of 50 acres of gardens, attractions, shops, restaurants, concert venues, and parks. There is a 150 ft Ferris wheel and an historic carousel in Navy Pier Park. Visitors can also watch a film at the 3D Imax Theater, watch actors perform the classics at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, or visit Crystal Gardens, a one-acre, six-story, indoor botanical garden. Also located here is the Chicago Children's Museum. The Pier hosts year-round festivities, including the Chicago Festival in August. Cruise ships leave from here on various sightseeing excursions.
5 Wrigley Field
6 Shakespeare Theater
The Shakespeare Theater in Chicago has a permanent facility at the Navy Pier. The seven-story, glass curtain-walled theater houses a 500 seat courtyard theater and a 200 seat flexible black box theater.
7 Museum of Science and Industry
At the north end of Jackson Park is the Museum of Science and Industry, founded in 1933, and arguably the most impressive museum in Chicago. It is devoted to the application of natural laws in technological and industrial development. The museum is thought to be the first in the U.S. to incorporate the idea of "hands-on" exhibits. Visitors are encouraged to interact with hundreds of exhibits. The MSI features permanent and changing exhibits, as well as an OMNIMAX theater.
8 Field Museum of Natural History
Originally called the Columbian Museum of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History was founded in 1893 to showcase the biological and anthropological collections gathered for the World Columbian Exposition. The name changed in 1905 to honor Marshall Field, the department store owner, art patron, and major benefactor of the museum. The permanent collection features approximately 20 million artifacts and specimens covering a variety of disciplines including geology, botany, zoology and anthropology. Of special note are the permanent displays on Ancient Egypt and the cultures of North, Central and South America and "Sue," the world's largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. Special rotating exhibits take place on a regular basis throughout the year.
9 Lyric Opera of Chicago
10 Oriental Institute Museum
The Oriental Institute Museum, located on the University of Chicago campus, is dedicated to the archeology and art of the Near East. Some of the antiquities on display include finds from excavations in Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Turkey, and Israel.
11 Willis Tower SkyDeck
Until 1996, when the Petronas Towers were built in Kuala Lumpur, the 110 story Sears Tower, now Willis Tower, was the world's tallest office block. While there are now several taller buildings, the view from here is incredible. On a clear day you can see 40 to 50 miles over four states, and gain a bird's eye view of Chicago's impressive architecture.
The Willis Tower took three years to build and was opened to the public in 1974. The building is 1,453 feet tall with an observation area, called the SkyDeck, on the 103rd floor, 1,353 feet above the ground. A glass box with a glass floor, known as the Ledge, juts out from the SkyDeck, where visitors can stand and look directly down at the city below.
12 Garfield Park Conservatory
Built in the early 1900s, the Garfield Park Conservatory is an historic, publicly owned botanical garden, operated by the Chicago Park District. The gardens grow plants which are used in the numerous city parks and gardens. The glass and metal prairie-school structure was designed by noted landscape architect Jens Jensen. His revolutionary design has been referred to as "landscape art under glass".
Some of the highlights include the Children's Garden, the Demonstration Gardens, and the Monet Garden, based on Claude Monet's garden at Giverney, France.
13 John Hancock Center
The John Hancock Center stands 1,125 ft high and is easy to recognize by its dark metallic looking exterior and cross-braced steel design which runs up the outside of the building. As well, two 345 ft high telecommunications aerials project up from the roof. Visitors can enjoy the views from the 94th floor observatory. The building, constructed in 1970, contains a variety of shops, offices and apartments.
14 Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park is a large green space bordering Lake Michigan. This is an incredibly popular park where people can come to enjoy walking trails, sports facilities, golfing, and the waterfront. The park is also home to the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Lincoln Park Zoo. This is a well laid out area with many interesting features and beautiful spaces, particularly during the summer months.